I am writing about parts of Rene Girard’s The One by Whom Scandal Comes.
Girard thinks we use sacrifice too much in connection with the passion of Christ. But he makes room for some use of the idea.
In this book Girard distinguishes two kinds of sacrifice. One he calls archaic sacrifice. This is the mostly pagan, but sometimes Jewish, form of sacrifice where a human or animal victim becomes an alternative to society’s pattern of turning violence toward a scapegoat. (He is aware of the biblical scapegoat ritual, but he mostly uses the word in the ordinary sense of a blameless person to blame.)
He says it is a mistake to see archaic sacrifice as a gift or offering to a deity. Instead it is an attempt to maintain the unity of society by focusing mimetic violence on a chosen victim. As best I understand it, Girard sees a pattern of societal murder of the innocent as a strategy for tamping down natural mimetic rivalries.
He sees Solomon’s judgment against a child (1 Kings 3:16-27) as a prime example of archaic sacrifice. Two prostitutes come to Solomon with a dispute over a child. Both claim to have birthed the child. But Solomon decrees that the child should be killed and divided. This sacrificial murder of an innocent would settle the dispute and remove the mimetic rivalry between the two.
A second kind of sacrifice comes out in the story. One of the prostitutes is fine with dividing the child. But the other one renounces her rivalry and, for the sake of the innocent child, gives up her claim. She short circuits the process of claim and counter-claim, of she-said-she-said. This is the same kind of sacrifice exposed in the passion of Jesus.
“She does therefore what Christ would have urged her to do: she takes renunciation to its furthest possible extreme, for she renounces that which is dearest to a mother, her own child. Just as Christ dies so that humanity might abandon its habit of violent sacrifice, the good prostitute sacrifices her own motherhood so that the child may live” (p. 42).
So Girard understands sacrifice here in the sense of renunciation or letting go.
Apparently in an earlier book, Girard had used the idea of sacrifice as an entirely negative concept, drawing on some passages from the prophets that seem to condemn all sacrifice. Thus he criticized the Book of Hebrews for trying to apply the idea of sacrifice to Jesus.
He was stung by some critics who pointed out that he was departing from orthodox Christianity. Now Girard says that this was not his intention at all. He was merely trying to hold up what he sees as a sharp contrast between myth and Christianity. He says he is not really versed in the fine points of theology. But he hopes that his present position–that what we have in Jesus is an entirely different kind of sacrifice–clarifies his thinking.
I am going to start reading the part of the book that is an interview of Girard by Maria Stella Barbari, a Sicilian cultural theorist. I am in hopes that this will help to fill out some of Girard’s concepts.
My concern at this point is that he may not treat Judaism fairly.